By Sufuyan Ojeifo
I watched and listened to the interview that a former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, granted on Sunday, April 25, 2021, on Channels Television’s “Politics Today”, anchored by Seun Okinbaloye. To be sure, Kalu is the Senate Chief Whip, and on both scores of political accomplishments, his qualification to speak on the number of issues that the interviewer attempted to interrogate through his perspectives cannot be faulted.
Kalu answered questions on the festering insecurity in the country and the burgeoning controversy over 2023 presidency. He alluded to some between-and-betwixt issues during the engagement. I had many takeaways from the interview session. But the crux of the takeaways, which I consider the real McCoy, was Kalu’s response to the question that bordered on his purported interest in the 2023 presidency.
The programme anchor had asked if he would run for the presidency against the backdrop of some prophetic declarations that he would be Nigeria’s president in 2023. Read what Kalu said in riposte: “I am a Catholic. I don’t believe in the said visioners or prophets. But I support a Nigerian President of Southeast extraction in 2023. It must not be me but if I am asked to lead, I am mentally and physically fit to lead Nigeria and I will unite the country.
“I am an investor. I have massive investments in the 36 states of Nigeria; hence I want the country to be at peace. We do not have any other country to call our own. We must rise to stop the killings. We must dialogue.”
Whereas there is a writ-large nexus between peaceful environment and successful business operations; it would appear far-fetched to those who do not have the requisite discerning mind to understand the connection between interest in the presidency and lack of a sense of entitlement to insist on validation of that interest.
Ordinarily, anybody who is somebody in Nigeria with the obligatory qualifications, is entitled to run for elective positions, including the position of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As a matter of fact, politicians mostly pursue their aspirations for offices with a strong sense of entitlement. It is quite unusual to come across a politician with a laissez-faire approach to the extent of dropping their guards in contestations with others for positions. Kalu’s mindset, I would not know if it had been moderated by time and experience, about not insisting on the presidency trumps his right to have a sense of entitlement to the nation’s plum position.
Indeed, his understanding of presidential power politics in Nigeria must have appropriately advised him to rein in his spunk in a matter that has been historically circumscribed to benefit those who either did not or just refused to push their sense of entitlement to it. Consider the late Alhaji Shehu Shagari, for instance. He never contemplated being Nigeria’s president. Reports had it that he was looking to represent his people in the Senate, but the power brokers from the north in the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), decided that he should be backed for the presidency on the party’s platform.
That consensus put paid to the presidential interests of Maitama Sule, Adamu Ciroma, Olusola Saraki, and the like in the NPN in 1979. And, of course, Shagari was granted the right of first refusal as a sitting president. He ran for a second term, at a time MKO felt he was ready to go for it but was told that the presidency was not for the highest bidder. The exception to the tradition of gifting the presidency to the man who never jostled for or showed obvious interest in it would have been established in the 1992 presidential poll, which Abiola worked and jostled for, but the outcome, which produced him as the unofficial winner, was truncated by the General Ibrahim Babangida junta.
And coming to the Fourth Republic that has, so far, produced Olusegun Obasanjo, the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, their choices had largely not derived from their individual sense of entitlement. I have advisedly used the word- “largely”- to accommodate a bit of exception for Buhari. Let me explicate – Obasanjo was in prison in 1998 when a decision was taken by some strategically placed power brokers in the north to make him president in 1999. People like former Vice president Alex Ekwueme, Chief Don Etiebet, Abubakar Rimi, and the like who wanted to pick the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket did not get it. Not even the alliance presidential ticket of Olu Falae/Umaru Shinkafi on the AD/APP platform could upend Obasanjo’s presidential enterprise.
In 2007, Yar’Adua was planning to return to Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria, to continue with his teaching job after his eight years in office as governor of Katsina State; but Obasanjo decided to hand over power to him at the expense of some others who openly jostled and campaigned for the presidency on the PDP platform. Goodluck Jonathan would have been content being the governor of Bayelsa State, but a constellation of factors had produced him as Vice president to Yar’Adua and, further along the way, an act of God, had produced him as President. What produced Buhari as President at the expense of a sitting president Goodluck Jonathan was not Buhari’s insistence on and holding to a sense of entitlement to be president, but much more of a nationwide consensus that thrived on the mindset that fed on the outlandish propaganda of “anybody becoming President but Jonathan” in 2015. The Goebbels had sufficiently de-marketed him and the only northern presidential candidate with the “clout” to give Jonathan a run for his presidential might and money was Buhari.
Overall, the point needs to be reiterated that the emergence of Nigeria’s president of the democratic hue has always been defined by vested interests and influential political forces over which the north enjoys greater superintendence than the south. The south has always provided its strategic support in the contemplation of composite and bigger political pictures that undergird presidential power sharing in accordance with constitutional provisions of spread.
I am very sure that Orji Kalu has a great understanding of Nigerian politics. He is conversant with the dynamics of presidential power politics by the north. This is because he has a special bond with people from that part of the country. He had lived with them; he had done business with them, and still collaborating with them. He enjoys mutual trust that has yet to be diminished by time. He knows them very well and vice versa. And, as a watcher of northern politics, I know as a matter of fact that the north and its power brokers believe in building consensus in the promotion of processes that conduce to the emergence of Nigeria’s president at different intersections.
For a practical politician who knows the mindset of the north, which is enamored with presidential power, the best strategy to deploy in securing the critical support of the north is to shear himself of a sense of entitlement, confrontation and contestation. Simply, let the communal spirit flourish in the interest of all. I believe this was what Kalu left us to infer from his answer, to wit: “I support a Nigerian President of Southeast extraction in 2023. It must not be me but if I am asked to lead, I am mentally and physically fit to lead Nigeria and I will unite the country….”
And, true, Kalu’s political philosophy is in pari materia with the north’s philosophical imperativeness of consensus building. Kalu, perhaps, knows that even if he is going to run for the presidency, the force of his interest will not take him too far. He will need the support and push of the critical north while not discountenancing the embrace of the essential south. This significant understanding is a big plus for the shrewd businessman and a politician with a legerdemain that has so far worked well in his favour in the making and definition of his politics.
•︎Ojeifo writes via [email protected]